Processes of social work engagement with the reforming state in Australia : the case of Centrelink

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Deborah Hart

DSW thesis, conferred 2014

This thesis provides an account of processes of social work engagement with the reforming state in Australia. The thesis focuses on the embedding and intensification of activation reforms into income support and employment services policy and the development through new public management (NPM) strategies of an individualised service delivery culture in the Australian federal government agency Centrelink during the period 1997 to the close of 2007. Central to this thesis is an interest in performative aspects of social work identity, as well as ways in which organisational control was pursued through intentional efforts to regulate the identity of its employees to ensure their responsiveness towards achieving contested welfare policy reforms.

The study draws upon a particular articulation of the theoretical framework of performativity to explore processes of regulation at the level of the organisation and at the level of individual workers. The study informing this thesis analyses narratives from two sets of agents: politicians and former members of the Centrelink Executive and eleven highly experienced social workers from all levels of the Centrelink hierarchy who participated in the transformation of this public service agency through NPM reform and welfare policy reform process. The focus of the study is on reflexive processes of coming into being, specifically how these two sets of agents interpreted and responded to interactive social and regulative processes of identity formation within this restructured organisational and policy context. The thesis extends current understandings of the effect of ubiquitous NPM and welfare policy reforms on social workers through shedding light on the processes by which social workers become or are produced in particular organisational and policy contexts. This thesis explores the way social work and public service values and commitments were constructed and contested throughout a period of transformational change.

Keywords: social work, organisational regulation, Centrelink, performativity

Supervisor: Associate Professor Susan Goodwin